US Stemology and Dr. Tami to Pay Consumers 500K

I’ve blogged many times about US Stemology and Dr. Tami in Seattle. This clinic was recently sued by the State of Washington and they just announced a $500,000 settlement. What can we learn from this? Let’s dig in.

The Stem Cell Wild West

The evolving world of regenerative medicine has always existed in two defined categories:

  • Orthobiologics
  • Magic

The world of orthobiologics has been focused on using autologous (from the patient) products like platelet-rich plasma (PRP), bone marrow concentrate, and fat grafts. These are not new products but have been used for decades in various dental and orthopedic procedures. What was new was how they are applied. That launched a new field called Interventional Orthobiologics. That field has become increasingly well documented with hundreds of peer-reviewed publications.

The other field is what I call “Magic” or “Miracle Cures”. Meaning it focused on curing otherwise incurable diseases with magic “stem cells” or other often allogenic (not from the patient) products. These patients were at higher risk than the average patient with a bum knee or back and as such, this side of the field was always destined to have more problems. In addition, these providers largely refused to capture and publish data and what you get is a “stem cell” wild west.

This “magic” part of this field has now expanded into “age management” and wellness. Meaning we have hundreds of these clinics that have now bolted on fake umbilical cord “stem cell” products and exosomes to an existing practice with little expertise in their use. Do we have any evidence that an IV infusion of stem cells will make the average person younger or healthier? Not at this time. Could research one day show this? Maybe, but we’re a long way from there using what’s available to us today.

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Dr. Tami

Dr. Tami has been featured on this blog before for a few reasons. The first was that IMHO she was firmly in the magic category. When I reviewed her website a few years ago, it listed 35 different conditions from MS to ALS to knee pain to erectile dysfunction. These medical conditions fell into the following medical specialties (board certifications):

Orthopedics/Pain Medicine/Physical Medicine and Rehab
Neurology
Urology
Cosmetics/Plastic Surgery
Cardiology
Pulmonology
Gastroenterology
Endocrino0logy
Immunology

What astounded me was that having expertise in any one of these disciplines would take a board certification and many years of study. Having substantial expertise in all of them was impossible.

Did Dr. Tami have any medical board certifications? She claimed to have two, but when I looked it up, nothing was listed under the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS). What were listed were actually certificate courses that she had taken.

There were lots of other issues that are listed in the blog at this link.

The Lawsuit

I first found out about serious problems at this clinic when I was contacted by legal counsel. While I’m not permitted to get into details, it involved performing a procedure with what in my opinion was inadequate interventional spine training. Shortly after that, Dr. Tami was sued by the State of Washington and this is what was listed in that press release:

  • “Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit against Seattle-based US Stemology and its owner, Dr. Tami Meraglia, for deceptively marketing stem cell treatments for COVID-19 and dozens of other serious medical conditions, including asthma, lupus, Parkinson’s, congestive heart failure and multiple sclerosis. There is no reliable clinical evidence stem cell therapy can effectively treat these conditions.”
  • “Ferguson’s lawsuit, filed in King County Superior Court, asserts US Stemology violated the Washington Consumer Protection Act by deceptively marketing stem cell treatments for serious conditions without scientific evidence. The lawsuit seeks civil penalties and asks the court to order US Stemology and Meraglia to pay full restitution to consumers.”
  • “US Stemology began marketing that it could treat these conditions starting as early as 2018. Meraglia began the stem cell clinic out of the basement of the medispa she owned, which mostly performed aesthetic and cosmetic treatments at the time.”
  • “After the Attorney General’s Office began its investigation, US Stemology stopped taking new stem cell patients in June 2021. Many of the deceptive treatment claims remain listed on its website.”

Basically, Dr. Tami converted a Medspa practice into a stem cell treatment center offering to cure a panoply of incurable diseases.

The Settlement

The State of Washington recently announced a $500,000 settlement of these claims. Since the company (US Stemology) lacks the funds to pay this amount, it must pay it over 24 months with 6% interest. It will also pay a $300,000 fine if it advertises, markets, or receives any payment for unproven stem cell treatments.

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A Guide for Consumers and Doctors

As a consumer, how can you avoid being scammed? As a physician offering autologous orthobiologics, how can you avoid ending up like Dr. Tami? Here is my simple guide:

Medical Indications

CONSUMER—Does the clinic offer to treat many different incurable conditions? IF YES, THEN RUN.

PHYSICIAN—Don’t offer to treat a swath of incurable diseases.

Physician Specialty

CONSUMER—Is the physician providing the treatment an ABMS specialist in this type of care or a mid-level provider like a PA or NP? If the doctor isn’t a boarded specialist in the area of treatment or is a mid-level (i.e. NOT a DOCTOR), then RUN.

PHYSICIAN—Don’t offer care outside your area of medical expertise and don’t pretend a mid-level is a medical specialist.

Published Data

CONSUMER—Is clinical data being collected and published either online or in medical journals? If NOT, THEN RUN.

PHYSICIAN—Collect and publish data

Too Good to Be True

CONSUMER—Does the clinic talk about treatment failures and successes? IF NOT, THEN RUN.

PHYSICIAN—Talk or write about the patients that fail your treatment. All medical treatments have success and failure rates.

Candidacy

CONSUMER—Does the physician carefully qualify patients as good or poor candidates for this procedure based on the data collected? IF NOT, THEN RUN.

PHYSICIAN—You MUST collect data to determine which patients are good or poor candidates for your treatment! You must qualify patients this way as well.

Upgrades?

CONSUMER—Does the clinic website focus on things like “upgrades” or treatment choices made by the patient? IF YES, THEN RUN. The treatment offered must be determined by the medical condition and what works the best, even if that’s the least expensive thing the clinic offers. That must be supported by publically available clinical data.

PHYSICIAN—Don’t offer care like a Starbucks menu. Meaning, that what the patient needs is determined by the medicine, not what they are willing to pay.

The upshot? As a consumer, it’s not hard to spot clinics that you need to avoid. As a physician, if you want to avoid ending up a cautionary tale, treat this field like an evolving medical specialty rather than a medspa.

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

If you have questions or comments about this blog post, please email us at info@regenexx.com

NOTE: This blog post provides general information to help the reader better understand regenerative medicine, musculoskeletal health, and related subjects. All content provided in this blog, website, or any linked materials, including text, graphics, images, patient profiles, outcomes, and information, are not intended and should not be considered or used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please always consult with a professional and certified healthcare provider to discuss if a treatment is right for you.

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